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Directly-elected mayors 'needed in Scotland to improve transparency'

Press Association

Directly-elected mayors 'needed in Scotland to improve transparency'

Directly-elected mayors are needed in Scotland to "improve accountability and transparency" in local authorities, a thinktank has said.

Reform Scotland has called on the next Scottish Government to endorse the creation of the position in every council area across the country.

The thinktank said in a report, which has been published in partnership with the Scottish Policy Foundation, that local democratic accountability has been eroded since devolution.

It recommends a mayor elected directly by all voters across the authority area, who would work alongside proportionately-elected ward councillors.

The report said: "One of the problems with local government is that often the electorate doesn’t know who is in charge."

It added that a council leader can be seen as "a lower-level politician, as opposed to occupying a prestigious role running a city."

"The advantage of having a directly-elected leader is that it provides a clear figurehead and so can provide dynamism and strengthen accountability and debate," the report continued.

"As seen in mayoral elections in England in areas such as London, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester, as well as giving those areas a greater voice mayors can also stimulate the electorate’s interest in and awareness of local government.

"Mayors can provide strong and effective leadership. In terms of cities they can be a powerful force in driving economic development and progress, while in suburban or more rural areas they can ensure their community is not overlooked.

"The mayor should be directly elected by the public across the whole council area, giving them a strong democratic mandate. We would suggest that the mayor is elected at the same time as the council.

"The mayor would perform the executive role and would be able to appoint councillors to portfolio areas."

The job of the council would be to hold the mayor to account, the thinktank added, and to "provide scrutiny".

It said: "Agreement would be needed to pass the budget with the mayor and council working together. This balance should improve accountability and transparency."

As well as a leader, councils across Scotland currently have provosts instead of mayors, which are largely ceremonial roles. Reform Scotland's idea would still requite a similar role for such events and to preside over meetings.

Former first minister Jack McConnell said: "This is a timely and well-prepared report from Reform Scotland. Scotland needs stronger voices across the country and more power devolved to local communities.

"Directly elected mayors and more financial freedom might be the answers we need. It is time they were debated properly."

Alison Payne, the thinktank's research director, said mayors could be "local heroes" in Scottish communities.

She said: "Scotland is far too centralised and needs to see a shift in power from Holyrood to local authorities.

"Although councils run many of the services that are most important to our everyday lives, few of us know who is in charge and who we should be holding accountable. Scotland is unusual internationally in the weakness of its local authorities.

"Council leaders can sometimes be viewed as politicians of less importance, and have a lower salary, than backbench MSPs, despite their responsibilities being significantly greater.

"This needs to change. Local people need a local hero who they know, trust to be independent, and who they can elect. Directly-elected mayors are the answer."

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